31 January 2016

Jan 4, 2016 INDIANA French Lick 1 - Something New; Something Old

Well, it is a new year (2016) and I'm a year older (Jan 4). After Mike's extravagant birthday trip to Italy last fall, we decided to stay a little closer to home, but go somewhere we had never been before.

Some years back my mom mentioned an interesting, historic hotel in French Lick, Indiana. We made a last minute decision to check it out. That town is also famous for Larry Bird (great basketball player). The Hick from French Lick was his nickname.

We left home at 9:30am. Temp was 32F and skies were cloudy. But the roads were dry with no snow or ice in sight. Mileage from home to French Lick in southern Indiana is about 350 with a driving time of almost six hours. Along the way we saw a few Amish buggies and, in this weather, steam wafted from the horses' noses.

We started off west on I-94 and turned south on Hwy 31. Had hoped to pass an Indiana welcome center, but saw none on this stretch. We did pass a sign indicating we had crossed over the north/south continental divide. This is a small ridge located between South Bend and Goshen, IN.

The pink line marks the high point of elevation between "north" and "south." Water on the north side of the divide flows to the Great Lakes and Canada. Water on the south flows toward the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean. 

It is also called the St. Lawrence Divide, but I couldn't find much more about it. I particularly wanted to know its highest altitude, but no luck on that so far. Although I do see Goshen is at altitude 873 and South Bend is at 771. So I guess somewhere around there.

Next we passed through Kokomo (fun name). It was a small town and looked like it was struggling in this economy. GPS mentioned a good ol' Irish pub named Cook McDoogal's, but it was closed. As I peeked in the window, a cleaning lady saw me and recommended Boondock's. It was closed.

We then drove around until we saw Three Amigos Mexican. Not impressive outside, but nice inside and the food was great. The sangria was the only let-down. It tasted more like Mogan David wine, pretty much like concord grape juice!

We continued our journey. Along the way we saw a number of signs that said "Waters of the U.S." Mostly they seemed to be in areas of road work and other construction. Later we found they refer to warnings about the Clean Water Rule. That act protects streams and wetlands in our communities. These type waters flow into rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters. So this protects waters at the source, not just at the end of their flow.

Outside of town we saw the Koko-Mantis. It is a 17-foot tall by 22-foot long praying mantis sculpture. Read more about it and see a photo here:

The highest altitude we spied was Whitehall Pike at 901 feet near Bloomington. We also saw several Rural King grocery stores, a new brand for us and very nice looking. We saw the biggest farmer's market facility we have ever scene. It was closed or we would have stopped. This photo only shows half. 

We had time to spare so we decided to drive through downtown Indianapolis, instead of using the city bypass. Hwy 31 routes right through Indianapolis from north to south.

Just north of the center of the city we came to the Meridian "mansion" District. Not sure where all the money came from in the early years of this town, but the big homes on both sides of the street were outstanding. Our heads were wagging side to side, our mouths were oohing, and we wished we were on a home tour seeing some of the interiors.

 Next we came to the thriving downtown. It was much nicer and more lively than we expected. In the heart is a roundabout surrounding a big square. Holiday lights were still glowing on a huge tree-shape arrangement around a statue. Wished we had more time to wander around here by foot. Past the square was the restaurant and bar district. Lots to do here but we were on a mission to get to French Lick.

Somewhere in Indy Hwy 31 changed to Hwy 37. Everything from home to Indy was pretty flat and boring, but now things started getting more hilly and picturesque. At Hwy 150 we made a jog west to French Lick and West Baden (pronounced Baden with a hard "A", not the German soft "a"). At last we arrived at the hotel and we were impressed.

You enter under double arches and drive on a long driveway to the impressive and historic hotel building. The property also includes 3,000+ acres of golf course and gardens. At one time it was dubbed the "eighth wonder of the world" for its six-story, free spanning dome.

Notice the red dome behind the two tower. More coming up!

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If you have visited any of these places, we would love to hear your comments. Or send us recommendations of places we should not miss.